“If You Could Hie to Kolob,” This Morning

 

 

This is probably NOT the planet Kolob.

 

We sang a favorite hymn of mine today, a quintessentially Mormon song (with a gorgeous melody) that we relatively rarely sing:

 

If you could hie to Kolob in the twinkling of an eye,

And then continue onward with that same speed to fly,

Do you think that you could ever, through all eternity,

Find out the generation where Gods began to be?

 

Or see the grand beginning, where space did not extend?

Or view the last creation, where Gods and matter end?

Methinks the Spirit whispers, “No man has found ‘pure space,’

Nor seen the outside curtains, where nothing has a place.”

 

The works of God continue, and worlds and lives abound;

Improvement and progression have one eternal round.

There is no end to matter; there is no end to space;

There is no end to spirit; there is no end to race.

 

There is no end to virtue; there is no end to might;

There is no end to wisdom; there is no end to light.

There is no end to union; there is no end to youth;

There is no end to priesthood; there is no end to truth.

 

There is no end to glory; there is no end to love;

There is no end to being; there is no death above.

There is no end to glory; there is no end to love;

There is no end to being; there is no death above.

 

In the format of the LDS hymnal, the first three verses are given along with the music, and the last two verses are appended afterwards.  Which means, in practice, that congregations typically sing the first three verses and leave the latter two alone.

 

I’ve long thought this division unfortunate, given the way it effectively ends the song — even though race, in this context, almost certainly refers to “the human race,” or even to (as Mormons might say) “the race of Gods and men” — in view of the somewhat awkward Latter-day Saint history with race and the current and understandable American sensitivity to the subject.

 

It’s understandable, of course.  To put it mildly, the lyrics become . . . umm, a bit less varied after the middle of the third verse, and a five-verse song can really cut into the time available for speakers in a sacrament service.

 

But it was especially awkward today, on the eve of the Martin Luther King holiday, and when, by pure coincidence,  the speaker immediately after the hymn was a member of our stake high council — and a black convert from Haiti.  (He said nothing about the conclusion of the hymn, and may have paid it no attention.)  “Oooh, that was bad,” whispered my wife.

 

Perhaps we could complain to the ward music chairman, who plainly wasn’t paying attention to the matter when she chose the hymn and failed to insist that we sing all five verses (or something).  But a complaint will probably do no good.  The ward music chairman is my wife.

 

 

  • Ron Beron

    We had the very same hymn performed today by a sister who plays the violin. I noticed that the music was written by British modern composer Van Williams. A beautiful Celtic piece.

  • Scott Lloyd

    I direct the music in sacrament meeting. But the hymns are selected by the organist, who is also the ward music chairman.

    On one occasion, she selected “If You Could Hie to Kolob” as the closing hymn. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it sung in sacrament meeting. We had a bit of time left, so on impulse, I exercised my prerogative as director and had us sing all the verses. One of the former music directors, current choir director, commented to me afterward on what a bold move that was. But I think it was a good decision. I noticed some moist eyes in the congregation as we finished the hymn, giving me hope that at least a few were paying attention to the words.

  • Scott W. Clark

    That hymn is a favorite here in Kiev, Ukraine. It’s also a family favorite.

  • h_nu

    I think it would be terrible thing if every member exercised a bit of charity and learned, that just maybe, the judgement they use is wrong.

  • Mark B.

    I can’t imagine any worship service being made poorer by spending more time singing and less time listening to sermons.

  • http://adventures-in-mormonism.com bfwebster

    Scott Card suggested some years back that — for precisely the reasons you touch upon — the word ‘race’ be replaced with ‘grace’. The hymn works even better.

    And, yes, I want this sung at my funeral. ..bruce..

  • Tom O.

    I wish I could hie to Kolob this morning…just to avoid the endless coverage of the “inauguration”. Really, Weather Channel?

    • danpeterson

      I couldn’t agree more. It’s a day to be frenetically busy — which I’ve managed to schedule — and to cap off with a good movie or maybe a catch-up episode of “Downton Abbey.”

      Normally, I’m a news junkie, a real addict. Over the past couple of days, though, I’ve more or less avoided the news. And I don’t plan to listen at all today, which I regard as a very, very sad day, and a potentially disastrous one for the country. Far too depressing.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    If the last half of the lyrics could be varied in format, while preserving the intent, it would look more inviting to sing all the way to the end. There was a discussion at timesandseasons.org a few years ago where several people tried their hand at it.

    • danpeterson

      I missed that. It would be interesting to see the results.

      The tune is so good that even the final two verses aren’t absolutely disastrous. But they could be so much better.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    It was April 8, 2008. My comment follows:

    “Perhaps the author of the hymn wanted to give you the FEELING of eternity and endlessness by the endless repetition of “There is no end to . . .” I have often thought that the great virtue of working on a welfare farm, weeding out a row of crops, is the appreciation it gives you for the meaning of endlessness.

    “One approach to improving the hymn would be to cut back on some of the endless repetition, and it could give us room to add some explanatory adjectives:

    “3. The works of God continue, And worlds and lives abound;
    Improvement and progression Have one eternal round.
    There is no end to virtue, No end to righteous might;
    No end to sacred wisdom, Nor to Christ’s spreading light.

    “4. There is no end to matter, No end to star-filled space;
    No start or end to spirit, No end to Father’s race.
    There is no end to union, Nor resurrected youth;
    No end to blessed priesthood, No end to grace and truth.

    “It is not just Abraham’s race, or the human race, but the Father’s race that is endless and eternal, whose immortality and eternal life is his great and everlasting goal.”

    • Scott Lloyd

      I like your verses a lot.
      Have you looked into to submitting them to someone at Church headquarters for the next hymnbook revision?

  • John Ziebarth

    The good, bad and ugly: Kolob is one of my favorite hymns; I listened to a few minutes of the inaugural speech but had to turn it off at the “collectivist” comment. Used TV anyone?

  • Tracy Hall Jr

    In our family we sing it thus, “If you could warp to Kolob . . . . “

  • MajMarine

    Interesting how we can all have a different understanding/interpretation of the same hymn. Every time I run a marathon, at about mile 21, I think of that hymn–in particular “there is no end to race”. And, when sung in church, it feels as if it will last a marathon.

  • The Other Clark

    The hymn was originally nine (!) verses. Of course, each verse was a couplet, which is why the current arrangement repeats the ninth verse twice to get it to fit the current format.

    This song has been in virtually every hymnal since the beginning, and in every edition, it has been matched to a different melody. I think the current one is the best one yet.

  • Steve

    That is actually one of my 2 favorite hymns, and we sang it in our meeting as well this Sunday, becuase the music director is a friend and put it on the program becuase it is one of my favorites! We must be soulmates!


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